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Media Release


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

OTTAWA - Today, after almost 10 years of campaigning for an effective federal government ethics system, Democracy Watch celebrated the passage by the Senate yesterday of Bill C-4, which creates a new, more independent and therefore more effective ethics enforcement system for federal politicians.  Bill C-4 must still receive Royal Assent by the Governor-General and be proclaimed into law by the federal Cabinet before it will be law, but Democracy Watch will be shocked if the federal Liberals fail to take these steps.

“If the federal Liberals had governed with integrity as they promised in the 1993 election, an independent and effectively enforced federal government ethics system would be 10 years old today,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition. “The passage of Bill C-4 sets a new standard for ethics enforcement that must still be strengthened, but brings effective ethics enforcement for federal politicians closer than it has ever been in Canadian history.”

Bill C-4 is the most important government accountability measure ever passed by the federal government, an even more important measure than the changes to the federal political donations system made last year.  While the new donations system reduces the influence of donations from wealthy interests, the effective ethics enforcement system that Bill C-4 sets the basis for will reduce many more undemocratic, unethical activities that have undue influence over federal politicians.

Bill C-4 eliminates the lapdog Ethics Counsellor, creates an Ethics Commissioner to enforce ethics rules for Cabinet and MPs, creates a Senate Ethics Officer to enforce ethics rules for senators, and shifts enforcement of the Lobbyists’ Code to the Registrar for Lobbyists.

However, the ethics enforcement system created by Bill C-4 remains flawed in the following ways:

“If the flaws in the new federal ethics system hamper effective enforcement as Democracy Watch believes they will, the flaws must be corrected immediately to ensure an end to the sham ethics scheme the Liberals have been running for the past decade,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch is also very concerned about loopholes Prime Minister Paul Martin created and kept in the new Cabinet ethics code he introduced in December.  Because Bill C-4 eliminates the federal Ethics Counsellor position, the Cabinet ethics code will be changed to replace the Ethics Counsellor with the new Ethics Commissioner.  If Martin does not also change the Cabinet code to eliminate the following loopholes, Cabinet ministers and their staff will continue to be allowed to act unethically:

In addition, the House of Commons still has to approve ethics rules for all MPs (currently there are ethics rules only for members of the Cabinet), and the Senate still has to approve ethics rules for senators.  Democracy Watch is very concerned that MPs and senators will create very weak ethics rules for themselves, especially given that a total of 31 senators voted in favour of an amendment to Bill C-4 that, if it had passed, would have gutted the independence and effectiveness of the Senate Ethics Officer, changing the position into a lapdog Ethics Counsellor similar to the current Ethics Counsellor.

“Cabinet ministers, MPs and senators are in a conflict of interest when they are drafting ethics rules for themselves, and if they don’t all show integrity by creating loophole-free rules they will demonstrate, yet again, that they are deeply unethical and more interested in protecting themselves from accountability than they are in upholding the public interest,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch’s 30-member group Government Ethics Coalition will continue to push for a comprehensive, loophole-free, independently and effectively enforced federal government ethics system.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

 Bill C-4 information webpage

Federal Cabinet's Ethics Code

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage